Janel McCarville wasn't sure she would ever play in the WNBA again.
She'd spent two years out of the league after a falling out with the New York Liberty.
McCarville was suspended for the 2011 season for not reporting to training camp, then sat out the 2012 season to spend time with family. And she thought that might be it.
"I had kind of anticipated not coming back unless it was the right situation," McCarville said. "For the most part, Minnesota would have been the only team I would come back to."
McCarville went overseas and played, but it was mostly on her terms. And then Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve called and laid out her terms.
"I told her, 'Don't blow smoke,' Reeve said. "I didn't want her to tell me what she thought I wanted to hear. I told her, 'Here's how we do things and if you want to come here, it's going to be this way.'"
Reeve had gotten the go-ahead from new New York coach Bill Laimbeer to ask after McCarville, who had played six years in the league for Charlotte and New York before her hiatus.
"Most of all, I wanted to know that she still wanted to be in the WNBA," Reeve said. "I didn't want her to be in the WNBA just because it was convenient, because it was here in Minnesota. I wanted to see she still had a passion that I remember her playing with. She said some things I wanted to believe. But I was very guarded, honestly."
McCarville never felt pressure from Reeve.
"If I wanted to, she wanted me," McCarville said, "and if I didn't want to, she didn't want me."
Reeve ultimately told McCarville, the former University of Minnesota star, to think it over. When McCarville called back with her decision -- yes, she wanted to resume her WNBA career in Minnesota -- Reeve and Laimbeer worked out a trade that sent McCarville back to Minnesota as part of the three-team deal that sent reserve guard Candice Wiggins to Tulsa.
Reeve needed a new post to replace the retired Taj McWilliams-Franklin. She knew McCarville was smart, experienced and intuitive.
"When we lost Taj, we lost a lot of intelligence," Reeve said. "[McCarville] filled that void."
But the coach also knew McCarville would have to get back into WNBA shape, saying that she had "gotten away" with playing for other teams and overseas in less than optimal shape.
"I lost some conditioning because my team overseas sent me home early without paying me," McCarville said. "I didn't know I was going to play in the WNBA, so I didn't get in shape for that. But I came in here and got in shape and had to learn the plays quickly."
For McCarville, like her former Gophers teammate Lindsay Whalen, playing for this team represents a homecoming. It is the place where she became a college star, just a few hours' drive for family and friends who live in her native Wisconsin.
In fact, when she got to Minnesota, she immediately bought the last four courtside seats the Lynx had to sell.
"To be honest, it's been exactly what I thought it was going to be," McCarville said. "The expectation of winning, the history of this team, everybody works hard, their mentality. By no means did I expect that I have a chance to experience this, but I'm loving it."
On the court, she has been a steady presence, averaging 4.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game.
"I try to go out every night and give them what they need," McCarville said. "Helping with rebounding, anyway possible. Defensive presence inside, hustle plays. I try to facilitate through the post. I want to find open shooters and get them the ball. I feel like that's one of my biggest assets."
Reeve called her a "ball mover."
"And it's terrific for our offense," Reeve said. "She's an unbelievably instinctive player. She's so smart and unselfish, which is a great fit for us.
McCarville and Whalen, who made phone calls as well last winter to convince her former college teammate to come to the Lynx, have managed to recapture some of their Gopher magic.
"It's takes a little while when you haven't played with someone in a long time," Whalen said. "But I knew she would fit in with this team."
But McCarville said it has been "just like walking back into Williams Arena."
"Her game improved, but the ability to reach each other was right there," McCarville said. "I've had a blast so far. I'm thankful every day I get to play with this team."